Tennis: Kafelnikov puts pressure on Henman

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The Independent Online
TIM HENMAN'S chances of qualifying for the ATP Tour Championship in Hanover will be under threat today if Yevgeny Kafelnikov is as selective with his shots as he was about the balls yesterday.

The resourceful Russian prevailed in the second round of the Paris Open against Sweden's Magnus Norman, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, after a tense final set. Kafelnikov produced a winning serve to save a break point after double- faulting in the second game. Norman saved two break points in the seventh game, one with an ace, the other with a backhand volley. In both cases, Kafelnikov gave the ball to the umpire, who examined it and put it in his pocket.

Norman played a poor backhand to offer a third break point, double-faulting to lose the game. He gave Kafelnikov a Siberian stare as the players walked to their chairs at the change-over.

The umpire, Rudi Berger, explained the ball-boys had mixed up the balls a game before they were due to be changed, and Kafelnikov had noticed two new ones among the six. Norman acknowledged that Kafelnikov was right to hand them in. "It was distracting, but it was just one those things," he said.

Kafelnikov, who began the week in 11th position in the race for the last two places in the eight-man finale in Hanover, was happy to play mind games with the ninth-placed Henman on the eve of their third round match today. "He is definitely under much more pressure than me," Kafelnikov said. "It is going to be one of the toughest matches he has had in his career.

"Playing in the final of any other ATP Tour tournament is not the same as trying to qualify for Hanover. I am going to try my best to get there. I have played Tim eight times and beaten him five to three. But this time the circumstances are different. Tim is desperate to qualify for Hanover. Before last week in Stuttgart I was far away from qualifying. Now theoretically I can qualify."

That would suggest that Kafelnikov is under pressure. "Not at all," he insisted. "It has been a disastrous year for me since I won in London [at Battersea in February]. I said last week I did not deserve to be in Hanover the way I have played this year. If I don't qualify it won't be a big deal. I'll get ready for next year."

Kafelnikov admitted, however, to being nervous against Norman. "I wanted to play Henman tomorrow, that's the bottom line," he said. "I haven't beaten anybody in the top 10 this year, and this might be my last chance. It should be a good match-up."

After describing Henman as "a very talented player who has no other game but to play aggressively", Kafelnikov agreed that the British No 1 had used his game to good effect since losing to him in the quarter-finals of the Guardian Direct Cup at Battersea. "He's started to win big matches against big players."

The Russian has won his three matches against Henman on carpet courts, in Rotterdam and Lyons in 1996, and this year at Battersea. Henman saved match points to defeat Kafelnikov in the first round at Wimbledon in 1996. Henman has won their three matches on hard courts, in Cincinnati in 1996, in Hanover last year, when the Briton was on a day trip as a substitute, and in the final in Tashkent two months ago.

Petr Korda, No 10 in the race for Hanover at the start of the week, was eliminated after losing to Australia's Mark Philippoussis, 2-6, 6-4, 6- 4. "The first half of the year cost me enormous energy, and I don't have it now," the 30-year-old Czech said. Korda, the Australian Open champion, has decided to continue playing for another year. This time last year he said his career was at "five minutes to midnight". Yesterday he said: "I can make the five minutes last as long as I want. When I decide it gets to midnight, it's bye bye."

Karol Kucera, of Slovakia, No 7 on the road to Hanover, advanced to the third round by defeating Fabrice Santoro, of France, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0. Pete Sampras and Marcelo Rios, the leading contenders in the race to finish the year as the world No 1, both progressed to the third round. Sampras defeated Sweden's Thomas Johansson, 7-6, 6-1. Rios defeated Australia's Todd Woodbridge, 6-0, 6-4.

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